A Vote for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Our Schools

At a time in our history when our flags seem to fly at half-mast more often than not, our kids are referring to themselves as “the mass shooting generation,” and suicide rates and drug overdoses are at an all-time high, we have an opportunity to make a difference in our kids’ lives at the polls by voting for candidates and ballot measures that make the current mental health and opioid crisis a priority.

As a Jefferson County, Colorado resident, I support ballot measures 5A and 5B which propose to improve student safety by upgrading school security and providing additional mental health services to include suicide prevention and substance abuse counseling. These measures will also provide funding to expand academic and early education programs, renovate dilapidated buildings, and offer competitive teacher salaries to attract more qualified teachers to our district.

Many of our nation’s schools are recognizing the need for better security measures and mental health and substance abuse services by putting these issues on the ballot. It’s up to us to support our schools in their effort to provide a safer environment for our children who have even begun advocating for themselves this year following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey, 72% of today’s youth, also referred to as Generation Z, say that the possibility of a mass shooting occurring in their school is a major source of stress. The APA states that this generation is also much more likely to report that they have fair or poor mental health compared to other generations. In addition, they are more likely to have a mental health diagnosis such as anxiety or depression. According to the most recent report from the Office of Suicide Prevention in Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 in my state. APA reports that nearly half of this generation also says they know someone with a drug or alcohol problem, but 35% said they would not know how to get help for a friend or family member with this issue.

It’s time to tell our kids that their cries for help have been heard and that we will invest in their well-being. Jeffco Public Schools, home to Columbine High School, has not seen a school funding measure passed since 2012. I’m voting for this year’s ballot measures, 5A and 5B, because they are about more than just reducing classroom sizes and increasing teacher salaries. While those things are important, 5A and 5B also address the mental health needs and safety of our students which can no longer be ignored. Our kids can’t afford for 5A and 5B not to pass.

Snooping to Save Lives

Is there a school shooter living under your roof? How would you know? In the wake of another devastating school shooting, we can all agree on one thing: we desperately need this to stop. Unfortunately, we all start pointing our fingers in different directions, and nothing changes. We blame guns, mental health, parents, law enforcement, schools, bullies, social media, violent movies, music, and video games. We point fingers of blame because our kids keep killing each other, and there were always signs that were missed or ignored. Can we do better in all of these areas? Absolutely. There are always lessons to be learned no matter what our role in society. It’s when we don’t learn from our mistakes that history tends to repeat itself.

I’ve been examining my own role in this history, and what I believe to be my lessons learned. Since I’m a parent of two teenagers who use writing as an outlet, I think it’s worth noting that school shooters often keep journals that are later cited in an investigation. Two days before the Santa Fe, Texas school shooting, I was scolded by my teenage son’s therapist for looking at his journal. “You shouldn’t read that. It’s private,” she said. “Tell that to Dylan Klebold’s mom,” I replied. That said, I don’t blame the Klebolds for Columbine. A couple years ago, after reading Sue Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, I came to the conclusion that the Klebolds were good people. They were good parents who had also lost a child and were then blamed for his actions. At the same time, I don’t think they really knew who their son was. I’m not sure any of us really know who our children are. And more importantly, I don’t think we, as parents, have figured out what we could do differently from the Klebolds to prevent our kids from killing their classmates.

I was a teenager in the ’90s, prior to Columbine, and my mom was a snooper. It infuriated me, and it felt like a huge invasion of privacy. Was I plotting a school shooting? No. Was I getting into trouble at school or with the law? No. I was, however, suffering from severe depression, and I’d admitted to having suicidal thoughts. Though I didn’t like it, I believe my mom had a right to search my room and read my journal. Since Columbine, more than ever, I think we have a responsibility as parents to know what our kids are up to, especially if it’s going on under our roof, and especially in the presence of certain warning signs. Do you think this is a gross violation of your child’s privacy or rights? Then let me ask you this: if you were to lose a child in a school shooting, and the shooter had a journal detailing how and when he was going to do it, do you think you would wish his parents had taken a peek at it?

Will your kids be mad at you for snooping? Most definitely. They’ll also get over it. Today, I love my mom dearly and consider her to be one of my closest friends and confidants. Did I consider her a friend when I was a teenager? Hell, no, she was my mom. She wasn’t supposed to be my friend. She was supposed to set rules and expectations and make sure I followed them. I did, for the most part, but there were substantial consequences when I didn’t. I believe I’m a better person for it.

Your kids will get over your snooping, and when they’re in their forties they’ll still call you on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to tell you they love you . A parent who loses a child in a school shooting may never get over it, and they will never get that call. I think it’s time we put our children’s lives before their privacy.

If you suspect something is off with your child, trust your instincts. Know the warning signs of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great place to start. If your child seems angry or depressed, is doing poorly in school, or you suspect that he’s using drugs, talk to him about it. Let your child know you love him and are concerned about him. If he won’t open up to you, and you still have concerns, you have the right and a responsibility to search his room, monitor his texts, emails, internet searches, social media accounts, and yes, even his journal. You might just be saving a life.